A Study of Revelation 19:1-21 - Part II
This is a continuation of the study of Revelation 19, picking up with v. 11 . . .
Here we see what is undoubtedly a vivid and highly symbolic portrait of Jesus at his parousia (second coming). Following is a list of each declaration.
·One sitting upon “a white horse” (v. 11). This rider, obviously Jesus, is not to be identified with the rider who is the first seal judgment in 6:2. The latter is likely a satanic parody of Jesus.
·He is called “Faithful and True” (v. 11).
·He “judges and wages war” (v. 11). Both verbs are present tense, perhaps pointing to timeless or customary actions of the rider. This judgment and waging of war is not merely against unbelievers but also on behalf of his people.
·His “eyes are a flame of fire” (v. 12). This reminds us of the portrait of the risen Christ in Rev. 1:14 (see also 2:18-23), all of which points to his role as divine judge who sees perfectly and exhaustively into the lives and hearts of people.
·On his head are “many diadems” (v. 12). This is to be contrasted with the dragon who has but seven diadems and the beast who has ten. “The undefined multiplicity of diadems shows Christ is the only true cosmic king, on a grander scale than the dragon and the beast, whose small number of crowns implies a kingship limited in time. Christ should wear more crowns than any earthly king or kings, since he is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (19:16)” (Beale, 952).
·He has a name written “which no one knows except Himself” (v. 12). This clearly echoes Rev. 2:17 as well as 3:12. This statement would contradict vv. 11,13,16 only if it is meant to be taken in a strictly literal sense of a literal label. But “the confidential nature of the name here has nothing to do with concealing a name on the cognitive level but alludes to Christ being absolutely sovereign over humanity’s experiential access to his character. To some he reveals his name (i.e., his character) by initiating a salvific relationship (as in 2:17; 3:12; 22:3-4; Luke 10:22; Matt. 16:16-17), but to others he reveals his name through an experience of judgment” (Beale, 955-56; cf. Exod. 6:3). Thus, most likely “name” = character as saving Lord and/or judging king.
·He is clothed in a “robe dipped in blood” (v. 13). See Isa. 63:1-3. There are several possibilities for identifying whose blood it is. Some say it is the blood of Christ himself, shed at Calvary, while others contend that it points to the blood of the martyred saints. On the other hand, it may well be the blood of Christ’s defeated enemies (a common OT image: see Exod. 15; Deut. 33; Judges 5; Hab. 3; Isa. 26:16-27:6; 59:15-20; 63:1-6; Zech. 14:1-21).
·His name is called “the Word of God” (v. 13). He is the Word of God in that through his words and deeds he manifests and reveals the character of God himself.
·He is followed by a heavenly “army” (v. 14). This may well be an army of angels accompanying Jesus from heaven to execute final judgment (cf. Mt. 13:40-42; 16:27; 25:31-32; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 2 Thess. 1:7; Jude 14-15). Or, again, these may be Christian believers, martyrs and others in the intermediate state, who accompany him. Rev. 17:14 identifies those who come with Christ as the “called and chosen and faithful”, a clear reference to Christians. Also, in Revelation, with one exception (15:6), only believers wear white garments (see 3:4-5,18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,13-14). See also 1 Thess. 4:14-17 for the idea that the saints accompany Jesus at his second coming.
·A sharp “sword” from his mouth is used to “smite the nations”, which he rules “with a rod of iron” (v. 15). The OT background for this is found in Isa. 49:2; 11:4; and Ps. 2:9.
·He treads “the wine press” of God’s wrath (v. 15). This image is drawn from Isa. 63:2-6. See also Rev. 14:19-20.
·The name “King of kings and Lord of lords” is on his robe and thigh (v. 16).
Here the angel announces the coming destruction of the beast, false prophet, and their followers through the same imagery found in Ezek. 39:4,17-20 where the defeat of Gog and Magog is described. The picture of vultures or other birds of prey feasting on the flesh of unburied corpses killed in battle (see also Rev. 19:21b) was a familiar one to people in the OT (cf. Deut. 28:26; 1 Sam. 17:44-46; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:24; 2 Kings 9:10; Jer. 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ezek. 29:5).
Verse 19 is a reference to that “war” already noted in 16:14,16 (cf. 20:8). Let’s turn to that text and reflect on “Armageddon” as it is described there.
The “kings of the earth” are specifically gathered together for “the war” (cf. 19:19; 20:8). The use of the definite article (“the”) points to a well-known war, the eschatological war often prophesied in the OT between God and his enemies (cf. Joel 2:11; Zeph. 1:14; Zech. 14:2-14).
The same Greek phrase ton polemon (“the war”) is used in all three texts (Rev. 16:14; 19:19; 20:8). In fact, in 16:14 and 20:8 the same extended phrase “to gather them unto the war” (sunagagein autous eis ton polemon) is used. This would appear to indicate that John had one and the same “war” in view. Premillennialists have to disagree, for they see the “war” of 16:14 as a reference to “Armageddon” at the time of the second coming of Christ but view the “war” in 20:8 as a different one that occurs subsequent to the millennium. I remain convinced that “the war” John notes in 16:14, 19:19, and 20:8 is one and the same war, thus supporting the idea that John is providing us, by means of literary recapitulation, differing perspectives on the same events.
Rev. 16:15 is a parenthetical exhortation addressed to believers to be vigilant lest they be caught unprepared on that great day. The picture is of a person who stays spiritually awake and alert, clothed in the righteous garments of Christ. For the image of physical nakedness as a symbol of spiritual shame often brought on by idolatry, see Rev. 3:18; 17:16 (cf. also Ezek. 16:36; 23:29; Nahum 3:5; Isa. 20:4).
The place of this eschatological war in both Rev. 16:16 and 19:19 is called Har-Magedon (Rev. 16:16). This poses a problem for those who believe a literal battle at the literal site is in view, insofar as there is no such place as the Mountain of Megiddo (which would be the most literal rendering of the word). Megiddo was itself an ancient city and Canaanite stronghold located on a plain in the southwest region of the Valley of Jezreel or Esdraelon. Although situated on a tell (an artificial mound about 70 ft. high), it can hardly be regarded as a mountain! The valley of Megiddo was the strategic site of several (200, according to Johnson, ) significant battles in history (see Judges 4:6-16; 5:19; Judges 7; 1 Samuel 29:1; 31:1-7; 2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:22-24). It makes sense that the vicinity would become a lasting symbol for the cosmic eschatological battle between good and evil. As Mounce accurately notes,
“geography is not the major concern. Wherever it takes place, Armageddon is symbolic of the final overthrow of all the forces of evil by the might and power of God. The great conflict between God and Satan, Christ and Antichrist, good and evil, that lies behind the perplexing course of history will in the end issue in a final struggle in which God will emerge victorious and take with him all who have placed their faith in him. This is Har-Megedon” (302).
To put it simply, Armageddon is prophetic symbolism for the whole world in its collective defeat and judgment by Christ at his parousia. The imagery of war, of kings and nations doing battle on an all-too-familiar battlefield (Megiddo), is used as a metaphor of the consummate, cosmic, and decisive defeat by Christ of all his enemies (Satan, beast, false prophet, and all who bear the mark of the beast) on that final day.
The judgment comes in two stages (although note that nowhere is the actual “battle” described; only its outcome). First, the beast and false prophet are “seized” and “thrown alive” into the lake of fire. Rev. 20:10 indicates that there torment is eternal. I have argued elsewhere that the beast and false prophet are primarily corporate or collective images and not two particular historical individuals (although individuals may at various times in history function as a manifestation of either beast or false prophet). As also noted before, if it seems strange to speak of throwing non-human, corporate, images into the lake of fire, see 20:14 where “death and Hades” are also thrown into the lake of fire! Second, all “the rest” of their followers are killed. That they, too, will ultimately be thrown into the lake of fire is evident from 20:15.
I should point out that not everyone sees in Rev. 19:11ff. a description of the second coming of Christ at the end of history. Kenneth Gentry, a preterist, contends that
“though the imagery of this passage suggests to many the Second Advent (and there certainly are many correspondences), it more likely refers to A.D. 70, which is a distant adumbration of the Second Advent” (Four Views, 81).
B. B. Warfield, a postmillennial NT scholar (d. 1921), sees here a symbolic portrayal of the triumph of the gospel throughout the course of the church age:
“The section opens with a vision of the victory of the Word of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all His enemies. We see Him come forth from heaven girt for war, followed by the armies of heaven. . . . The thing symbolized is obviously the complete victory of the Son of God over all the hosts of wickedness. . . . The conquest is wrought by the spoken word---in short, by the preaching of the gospel. . . . What we have here, in effect, is a picture of the whole period between the first and second advents, seen from the point of view of heaven. It is the period of advancing victory of the Son of God over the world. . . . As emphatically as Paul, John teaches that the earthly history of the Church is not a history merely of conflict with evil, but of conquest over evil: and even more richly than Paul, John teaches that this conquest will be decisive and complete. The whole meaning of the vision of Revelation 19:11-21 is that Jesus Christ comes forth not to war merely but to victory; and every detail of the picture is laid in with a view precisely to emphasizing the thoroughness of this victory. The Gospel of Christ is, John being witness, completely to conquer the world. . . . A progressively advancing conquest of the earth by Christ’s gospel implies a coming age deserving at least the relative name of ‘golden,’” (B.B. Warfield, “The Millennium and the Apocalypse,” in Biblical Doctrines, pp. 647-648, 662; emphasis mine).
Although I have immense respect for Warfield, I believe he is seriously mistaken in his interpretation of this text. So I end on a more positive note by saying that what John has in view (in Rev. 19) is the glorious return of Christ at the end of human history at which time he will consummate God’s redemptive work on this earth by destroying those who oppose him, to be followed by the introduction of the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.